Manchester United and Leicester were given the honour of getting the Premier League underway on Friday night, with United running out 2-1 winners at Old Trafford.
After a rocky summer, United got their 2018/19 campaign off to the perfect start when Paul Pogba calmly dispatched a 3rd-minute penalty. From there, Leicester dominated the first half, with James Maddison, in particular, catching the eye. The new signing forced David de Gea into one particularly impressive save, and the Foxes will have fancied their chances at half-time.
United, however, were much more settled in the second half, and should have been two up, but for a fine piece of goalkeeping from Kasper Schmeichel who denied Romelu Lukaku from an almost certain goal. The winning goal came from an unlikely source, as Luke Shaw charged into the box and produced a lovely, improvised finish off his own poor first touch with seven minutes to go to score his first goal in professional football. There was still time for Jamie Vardy to pull one back for Leicester with a poached header, but it was too little, too late.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
Captain Pogba leads from the front
Paul Pogba did not play like a man who had just reported back for training on Monday. The Frenchman was immense in midfield, and seemed to relish the role of leader. Mourinho trusted him with the armband on this occasion, and he stepped up.
This is very much the Pogba that Mourinho wanted to see, full of effort and drive. He steadied a ship that could have been rocky, with Fred making his Premier League debut, and Andreas Pereira a relative newcomer to the scene. In taking penalty duties from Alexis Sanchez, Pogba also showed that he is brimming with confidence. That World Cup win seems to have buoyed the Frenchman, and he looks hungry for more trophies this season.
James Maddison shines on debut
Many 21-year-olds making their Premier League debuts against Manchester United would freeze on the occasion. That was something that never looked likely to happen to James Maddison. The Englishman joined Leicester this summer from Norwich City and was the best player on the pitch during the first half of the game.
He was quick and elusive in open play, and deadly from set-pieces with his accurate, whipping crosses. Maddison may be just what the Foxes need to get over the departure of Riyad Mahrez, and if he continues in this vein, he will be in consideration for Gareth Southgate’s England squad before long.
United’s best centre-back pairing?
Much has been made of the circus that was United’s attempt to sign a centre-back this summer. They seemingly lurched drunkenly from one target to another, while never really looking like they were going to follow through and actually sign someone. It is something that Mourinho has bemoaned during his increasingly negative press conferences towards the end of the US tour.
However, the pairing of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof largely performed well against Leicester, and may just be United’s best pairing for now. Lindelof seems to have settled since his poor debut last year, and Bailly made some eye-catching challenges. They are no Vidic and Ferdinand just yet, but if the alternative is another season of Smalling and Jones, United fans will take what they can get.
England’s left-back spot is up for grabs
One feature of this game was two English left-backs who excelled up their respective wings. For Leicester, Ben Chilwell was phenomenal during the first half, bombing on into space and linking up with Maddison. He gave Matteo Darmian a tough time, and most of Leicester’s promising moves flowed through that left-hand side.
As he faded in the second half, Luke Shaw came to the fore for United. The much-maligned player showed excellent application throughout the second half, barring one small lapse of judgement, which nearly allowed Jamie Vardy a shot at goal. He was willing to get forward and capped a good game with a well-taken finish. England’s left-back at the World Cup was 33 years old Ashley Young. His understudy, Danny Rose, is out of favour at Spurs. These two both staked their claim for a future spot in the England side.
United still look too willing to sit back
A feature of United’s campaign last year was a willingness to sit back and invite pressure, particularly after taking the lead. It came to the forefront again on Friday night, as United took an early lead before Leicester took control of the game.
Too often, Marcus Rashford was starved of service up top, cutting a lonely, frustrated figure. These tactics cost United last time around, and they were lucky to hang onto their lead until halftime. Mourinho cannot afford to let his team come under this much pressure against sides with better forwards, or he will be punished.
Leicester may have gotten something out of this game had Vardy been match-fit enough to start. It is an early warning sign for United and one they cannot afford to ignore.